Cloaked By The Morning Mist

You remember the nursery rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day, we want to go outside and play”? Well, it finally rained yesterday and today, and many of us have greeted it with open arms. And we certainly didn’t let it stop us from going out to play.


This morning, I joined a group from the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust for  a hike in South Eaton, New Hampshire. Had I not been racing for time, I would have stopped every twenty feet to snap a photo, but I did pause beside Crystal Lake.


After getting lost for a few minutes because I didn’t pay attention to the directions, I found the property. Eleven of us headed down Paul Hill Road, led by Jesse Wright of USVLT, and Nancy Ritger, senior naturalist with the AMC.


We paused to examine a variety of offerings, including the flat stems of the quaking aspens. It was the raindrops on the big tooth aspen, however, that drew my focus. One of the things Nancy spoke about as she had everyone feel a flat aspen stem, is how that very stem aids in photosynthesis.


The leaves tremble or quake, giving each more time in the sunshine–individual leaves, no matter where they are attached to the tree, share in unshaded glory for split seconds as those above them flutter. And, in the case of aspens, both sides of the leaf work to make sugar and release oxygen.


We spent a long time beside a beaver pond and pondered various aspects of it. We could see the lodge and beaver sticks in the water–that made sense.


But why a significant wall on at least two sides?


And a split stone by the water’s edge? What else had happened here? Jesse told us that there are numerous foundations that we didn’t have time to locate today, so we knew that though it seemed as if we’d traveled to the middle of nowhere, this place was once somewhere.


And to the local moose, it still is as evidenced by the prints we found in mud.


Our attention also turned upward as we admired raindrops dangling from fruticose lichen (think fruit-like branching).


Suddenly, the rain increased so Jesse asked if anyone wanted to turn around and received an overwhelming vote to continue on.


One of my favorite discoveries was a couple of larch trees. Larch or tamarack is our only deciduous conifer. Huh?


Like deciduous trees, the larch needles turn yellow each autumn and fall to the ground. Another cool fact: needles grow on stout pegs that look like wooden barrels.


We paused beside ash trees and tree stumps, and enjoyed the view of this pileated woodpecker excavation of carpenter ant tunnels–their favorite prey.


In the log landing that did become our turn-around point, we noted the early succession growth of Eastern white pines and sweet fern (not a fern). But again, we looked to our feet for the best views.


Candy lichen is a crustose (think–flattish or crust-like) lichen with green to bluish-green coloration.


Its fruiting bodies, however, are candy-pinkish disks atop stalks, even reflected in the raindrops.


Our journey back to parked vehicles passed quickly, indicating we’d not traveled all that far in two and a half hours. That’s normal when you take time to notice. Before departing, Jesse showed me a cemetery on the abutting property.


Small, unmarked stones made me think of a Civil War-era cemetery in Sweden, Maine–perhaps a sudden illness of young children called for quick burials.


One section was portioned off by split granite.


The Currier plot. A side road we’d passed by was named for the family.


The crustose lichens were intriguing on Rhoda Lodolska Currier’s stone. Rhoda died at age 26.


Her sister, Octavia, lived to be 53.


Most impressive was the age of Nancy Leavitt, her stone located just outside the Currier plot. Nancy died at age 90.


As we walked out, Jesse spied a cup-shaped vireo nest built in the fork of a beaked hazelnut. Life continued to circle in these woods.


And the autumn color undulated, mimicking the land. The sun tried to peak out for a few minutes when we arrived at our vehicles, but we were all appreciative of the rainy day wonders we’d found along the way.


And back in Eaton, a quaint New England village located beside Madison and Conway, New Hampshire, and the Maine border–beauty cloaked by the mist.

Thanks to Jesse, Nancy and the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust for a fine morning spent wandering and wondering.







Everybody Loves Raymond? Mondate

My guy and I were up for an adventure this morning as we headed off to a property recently acquired by Loon Echo Land Trust. I’d been there once before, but at that time there was no trail system and I certainly hadn’t climbed to the summit.


We were on a 356-acre property bisected by a paved road. First, we hiked the upper section, passing through a hardwood forest.


Immediately, I realized we were in the presence of one of my favorites–noted for the mitten-ish presentation of its leaves. One would have to be all thumbs to fit into this mitten, but still, my heart hums whenever I spy a white oak.


Or in this case, many white oaks, some exhibiting the wine color of their fall foliage.


And the bark–a blocky look that differs greatly . . .


from the ski trail ridges of red oak.


Hop Hornbeam also grows abundantly in this forest.


As we neared the summit, we noticed that the sky view had a yellowish tone reflected by the ground view. Most trees were of the same age due to past logging efforts, but the predominant species was sugar maple.


Another favorite tree also grew abundantly here. I think they are also favorites because I don’t see them as often. In this case, the bark, though furrowed and ridged like a northern red oak, featured an almost combed flattened ridge.


And its leaves–oh my! Notice the asymmetrical base? And the length–my boot is size 8. American basswood–an important timber tree that is known to share the community with sugar maples and hornbeams–all of which provided that yellow glow.


At last, we reached the vantage point.


Above us, a mix of colors and species.


Before us, a mix of white and red oak leaves.


And beyond us, the view of Crescent Lake


and Rattlesnake Mountain.


While we admired the view, ladybird beetles (aka ladybugs) swarmed us. Well, not exactly in swarm formation, but more than is the norm.


After admiring the view for a while and wondering about the ladybirds, we backtracked a bit and decided to explore the green trail, assuming that it looped about the summit.


The trail conditions changed constantly, and one thing we realized was that the leaves had dried out and we wished we could have bottled their scent along with our crispy footfall as we trudged through–the smells and sounds associated with autumn.


Eventually, we entered a beech commune and what to my wondering eyes should appear–bear claw marks? We ventured closer, circled the tree and looked at others in the neighborhood before determining that our eyes had perhaps played a trick on us.


That was OK because within seconds a twig moved at our feet.


We watched as its tongue darted in and out, red tipped with a black fork.


Finally, we moved back to what we’d named Ladybird Lookout and found lunch rock where we topped off sandwiches with Bailey’s Irish Cream fudge a la Megan and Becky Colby. Life is good. Life is very good. (And we know a town in western Maine that would benefit greatly from a bakery–just saying, Megan!)


After lunch, we climbed back down and crossed Conesca Road to check out trails on the other side. There is no trail map just yet, but we never got lost. And we appreciated the artwork nature created of manmade marks.


This space offered a different feel where hardwoods combined with softwoods. And more stonewalls crossed the property, speaking to past uses.


It’s here that we noticed an area demarked by pink flags and stopped to wonder why. Note to self–excavated hole and debris mean beware.


Upon closer examination, an old hive. So who dug it up? We had our suspicions.


We also noticed a fungi phenomena.


Fungi on fungi? Honey mushrooms attacked by something else?


The displays were large


and otherworldly. I don’t recall ever seeing this before.


As we concluded our visit, we passed over one more stone wall decorated with red maple leaves.


And then we hopped into the truck and traveled a couple of miles south to conquer another small mountain–one visible to us from Ladybird Lookout. (I really think LELT should name it such.)


Here the milkweed plants grew abundantly.


In the field leading to the trail, the property owners planted white oak saplings in hopes of providing food for wildlife. Um, by the same token, they’d enclosed the saplings in plastic sleeves (reminding us of our findings in Ireland) to keep deer at bay.


The understory differed and ferns offered their own autumn hues.


In contrast were the many examples of evergreen wood ferns.


We soon realized that quite literate bears frequented this path and announced their presence.


At last, the view opened and we looked back at the opposite shore of Crescent Lake, though realizing that our earlier ascent was masked by the trees.


Turning about, Panther Pond came into view.

We’d spent the day embracing Raymond because everybody loves Raymond.



Raymond, Maine, that is. Loon Echo Land Trust is gearing up to celebrate the Raymond Community Forest that we explored this morning and the Bri-Mar Trail up Rattlesnake Mountain has long been traveled by many. In fact, when I used to write copy for the local chamber of commerce, I spent some time learning about Edgar Welch, who was the fastest man on foot and ran up Mount Washington at least once a year. He lived in Raymond and worked for David McLellan, who was partially blind from a Civil War injury. Because Mr. McLellan’s farm was at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain, the sun would set one hour earlier than elsewhere in town. According to legend, after work each day Edgar ran up the mountain and moved rocks. Finally, he’d moved enough to let the sun shine on the farm for an hour longer. Another story has it that one day a man bet Edgar that he could beat him in a race to Portland. The man would race with his horse and buggy, while Edgar ran. When the opponent pulled into the city, Edgar was waiting for him. I love local lore.

And everybody loves Raymond. Well, my guy and I certainly gained a better appreciation for this town today.




In Constant Flux

Ever so slowly, the world around us changes.


Sometimes it’s as obvious as the leaves that fall.


And other times, it’s a bit more subtle, evidenced by the bees that have slowed their frantic pace as they make final collections.


Mid morning, I headed down the cow path in search of other signs of change.


As I walked along, I began to realize the interdependence of all. Under the northern red oaks–many  chopped off twigs.


The angled cut and empty cap indicated the work of porcupines seeking acorns.


I found maple leaves pausing on hemlocks,


pine needles decorating spruce trees,


and occasional puddles offering a rosy glow. Eventually, all of these leaves and needles will break down and give back.


I found life on a rock, where lichens began the story that was added to by mosses. The creation of soil was enhanced by a yearly supply of fallen leaves and needles gathered there. And then a seed germinated, possibly the result of an earlier squirrel feast.


I found orange peel and many other fungi aiding the process of decomposition so that all the fallen wood and leaves will eventually become part of the earthen floor.


I found a healthy stand of trees and ferns competing for sunlight in an area that had been heavily logged about ten years ago.


I found evidence of those who spend their lives eating and sleeping in this place.


I found seeds attached


and those on the fly–heading off in search of a new home.


I found the last flowers of fall


exploding with ribbony blooms.


After bushwhacking for a few hours, I found the snowmobile trail, where man and nature have long co-existed.


At last I found my way across the field rather than through our woodlot, thankful for the opportunity to take in the colors of the season one more time.

At the end of the day, I’m once again in awe as I think about how we, and all that we share this Earth with, are dependent upon each other and the abiotic forces that surround us.

And with that comes the realization that the scene is in constant flux and so am I.




A Color-filled Mondate

The fleeting fall foliage offered the backdrop for our afternoon Mondate.


We started with a stop at Five Fields Farm to purchase a pumpkin and enjoy a chat with owners Tom and June Gyger.


Their orchard overlooks Holt Pond, that speck of blue among the trees. Because of this year’s drought, the water is lower than ever, but Tom pointed out that during heavy rainstorms they’ve often watched it quickly fill and then lower as the water pours in and then slowly flows down the Muddy River. We need such a storm.


In fact, once we got onto the trail, my guy tested a bridge he’d built in the spring–noting that currently it’s useless because no water flowed below.


We continued on, turning our hike into a trail clearing activity because this is a trail we steward for Lakes Environmental Association. A few blow downs were easily cleared–by my guy. I worked as well–documenting his good deeds.


But really, it was the color that drew our attention.


At our feet, a rich carpet covered the forest floor.


It’s vibrant variety was pre-determined by the species. Red maple leaves offer shades of red or scarlet, sugar maple leaves vary from brilliant orange to fiery red to yellow, while striped maple, quaking aspen and birch feature only yellow. Ash leaves range from yellow to magenta and beech offers up a golden bronze.


So, how does it work? It’s been dry and many thought that would mean a lack of color this fall. Yes, some trees will dry up and their leaves wither and fall. But for most, it’s a different story as old as time.


During the spring and summer the leaves worked as food-processors for their trees. Their numerous cells contain chlorophyll or the green coloration. The chlorophyll absorbed energy from the sunlight, which it then used to change carbon dioxide and water to  sugars and starch (think carbohydrates).


But, also at work alongside the green pigment, yellow and orange carotenoids. As you can see with these quaking aspen leaves, the carotenoids are masked by the greater amount of green coloring for most of their season.


With the change in daylight hours and temperature, the leaves go on strike from processing food. And thus, the chlorophyll breaks down, green color begins to disappear and the yellowish color becomes visible to our delight.


At the same time, other chemical changes occur that cause the formation of more pigments from red . . .


to purple. The red pigment called anthocyanin forms.


It’s like being in nature’s paint store.


And I have to admit that it occurred to me I should spend some time sorting leaves by color  and trying to match them to paint chips so I could better describe the gems before me.


OK, so I didn’t dwell on that thought for too long, just long enough to realize that it would need to be a quick assessment before the leaves dry up and all become a shade of brown.


At last we reached a vantage point from which to view the pond. I often stand across the way on the quaking bog boardwalk, so looking back provided a different perspective.


And those swamp maples–oh my!


For this beautiful display to occur, we must have warm sunny days followed by cool nights. The sugar is made in the leaves during the day, but those cool nights trap it there, preventing it from moving into the tree.


Not only do the colors vary, but the degree of color may also be different from tree to tree or even on one tree. Direct exposure to the sun may turn leaves red on one side of a tree and they may be yellow on the shady side.


As for clouds and rain, too much in the fall means less red (a bright side of the drought). On those types of days it also tends to be warmer at night, thus changing up the process and providing duller colors. Not so this year, thankfully.


There was nothing dull about what we saw today, including the presentation of fallen leaves, some captured by their evergreen comrades.


A few dangled like ornaments hung by spiders.


Others held on precariously, attached only by a few points.


And even others portrayed a shadow show.


At last we reached a small stream, our turn-around point, where all gathered to show off their glory.


We took one last look at the pond while making our way back. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–Nessie. Or maybe I should name her Holtie, the Holt Pond Monster! Do you see her?

My guy–he chuckled at me. He often does that. It’s OK. I know what I saw.

You might say our Mondates are always colorful, but today’s was especially color-filled as we celebrated the work of the leaves.

To Overlook and Be-yond

This afternoon I pulled into the parking lot at Bald Pate Preserve and heard my phone ring. I’ve never quite mastered the art of the swipe to answer and so as usual missed responding immediately. But . . . I put the car into park, or so I thought, and then tried to return the call to our youngest in Colorado. As I dialed, or rather, pushed the phone icon and listened to it dial and ring, I heard the phone ringing in another part of the truck. What in the world? A ventriloquist phone? And then I opened the cubby between the front seats and discovered my husband’s phone. And saw that our youngest was trying to reach him. Meanwhile, I felt like I was in motion. Because I was. The truck was in neutral rather than park and I was almost to the middle of the parking lot before I applied the brake. Somehow, I managed to make the call. After we chatted for a few minutes, with concern and wisdom, he asked, “Mom, are you hiking alone? Should you be?” “Yes,” I responded. “I’ll be fine. There are other cars here so I’m sure I’ll see people.” To be honest, though, I hoped I wouldn’t. This was one day when I needed to just be.


I needed to wander among the red maples


and red oaks that graced the sky.


I needed to embrace the subtle coloration of sarsaparilla


and vibrant hues of blueberries.


I needed to admire the veins that bring nourishment to trees


and all that live therein.


I needed to observe life giving forces


and the differences among kin.


I needed to pause at each overlook


where the view offered up life’s changes.


I needed to say farewell


as I looked toward the beyond.


For you, Brother Bill, I needed to walk the trails today and lift up your  life which ended unexpectedly this morning. I trust that you’ll be forever in my heart and going forth will travel with me as I wonder and wander. I trust you’ll watch over me and help me understand the great beyond. May you rest in peace, big brother.

An Emerald Mondate

My guy and I journeyed via bus, car and foot across northern and eastern Ireland these past two weeks. Our main agenda–a vacation in the land where twenty-six years and two months ago we celebrated our honeymoon. We both also had semi-hidden agendas–his to seek out ancestral roots, mine to search as well, though my quest wasn’t quite so clear.


Our journey began after we dumped our bags at our hotel, where our room wasn’t yet ready, and crossed the River Liffey in Dublin. It was to the right that we’d parked our car 26 years previously as we searched for traditional music and supper, only to return hours later and discover that the driver’s side window had been smashed and our video camera stolen. All these years I’ve held a sour view of the Fair City and so I felt a bit nervous as we stepped forth.


The feeling began to wane immediately, for as we approached a street corner and chatted about locating the library, a Dubliner overheard us and assumed we were looking for Trinity College (founded in 1592). We decided to play along and followed his directions–thankfully. It was “Welcome Freshers” week and the quad swelled with activity tents, music and students anticipating the year ahead. We passed among the frivolity and found the self-guided tour of the 18th century Old Library and that most ancient of manuscripts–the Book of Kells, a 9th century book featuring a richly decorated copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. A favorite discovery: the monks used oak apple galls to create ink–apparently, they crushed the galls and soaked them in rainwater, wine or beer until they softened. I’ve got to try this.


While (or whilst as the Irish say) no photos were allowed in the treasury where the manuscripts are stored, equally impressive was the Long Room, which houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books in ancient oak bookcases. Just thinking about the centuries we were encountering was mind boggling, enhanced of course, by a lack of sleep.


A few hours later, we made our way back to the hotel, enjoying the architecture and flowers as we walked along. At last, we could check in and so we checked out–a rejuvenating nap was essential to our well being.


Rested and showered, we hopped aboard a bus–our next destination, the Guinness Storehouse at St. James Gate Brewery. The 250-year story of Guinness® is portrayed on five floors in a building designed in the shape of a pint. What’s not to like about that.


We learned about the process of creating beer, and then there was the whistling oyster, one of the many icons of the Guinness® brand.


After taking in the full story, we reached the Gravity Bar, where ticket holders may each sip a complimentary foam-topped pint. The museum was preparing to close and the bartenders made the last call. My guy asked if we could purchase a second pint and we learned that they don’t sell any, but he kindly slipped us two for free. Don’t tell.


The Gravity Bar offers 360˚ views of the city.


And the view includes the Wicklow Mountains, our intended destination for week 2.


If you hear my guy tell this story, he’ll say that we were told it was a 45 minute walk from our hotel to the Storehouse, but a short bus ride. We rode the bus there, but later weren’t sure where we should queue for the ride back, so we decided to walk instead. According to him, it took us five hours to make that 45 minute walk. I’m not sure it was quite that long, but we did stop at The Temple Bar for the music and a few other prime spots to eat and sip a wee bit more.


The next morning we set out for the National Library, which had actually been our intended destination the previous day–but who can deny enjoying the Book of Kells exhibit. My guy was hopeful that the genealogists at the library would help him make some connections, but without knowing parishes he hit a bit of a stonewall.

And so we left the Fair City with much fonder memories, took a bus to the airport, picked up our rental car, and ventured on. Oy vey. If you’ve ever watched the BBC program, “Keeping Up Appearances,” you’ll appreciate that I was Hyacinth to my guy’s Richard. “Mind the pedestrian,” I’d say. “I’m minding the pedestrian,” he’d respond.


Our first stop, Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb alleged to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. Constructed during the Stone Age, about 5,200 years ago, Newgrange is a large circular mound that covers 300 feet in diameter and stands 36 feet high. A stone passageway leads to three small chambers. Some describe it as an ancient temple, a place of astrological, spiritual and ceremonial importance. Our guide told us that bones were found here and it may have been a place for worship as well as where people were laid to rest. We were in awe of its structure and the fact that the passageway is oriented northward allowing the sun to illuminate it during the winter solstice.


Yes, the railings are new, but this is possibly the oldest building in the world. That’s worth repeating–the oldest building in the world. We had to bend low to enter and then squeeze between the walls as we walked toward the center, where three small chambers with stone basins created a cross-like structural plan. Even as we stood with others in darkness and waited for a beam of artificial light to demonstrate the real thing, we couldn’t quite fathom what we were witnessing.


Our awe continued within the center and by the entrance stone, where we witnessed megalithic art. The spirals reminded me of labyrinths, but we’ll never know their true significance. And that’s OK.


By the time we arrived at Carlingford, it was pouring and we had no idea where to stay. We stopped at a hotel, which was full–thankfully. They suggested the Ghan House, a Georgian House set within three acres of walled gardens. It was our most posh stay and we didn’t truly appreciate it until the next morning when the sun shone brilliantly.


The Ghan House is located just a stone’s throw from the Thoisel or town gate leading into the narrow streets of the town centre, where we found Ma Baker’s in the rain, a welcoming pub frequented by the locals, who laughed and joked and reminded us that the Irish love to sip a pint, tease each other and tell stories no matter what the weather might be out the door. And they don’t care about spelling, punctuation or run-ons. Life is too short for that–note to self.


The tide was low when we walked along the lough the next morning and took in King John’s Castle, which was initially constructed by Hugh De Lacy in 1190, though it wasn’t completed until 1261. Purportedly, King John, the brother of Richard the Lionhearted, visited in 1210, and thus the name for this Norman structure.


From Carlingford, we travelled north and did what we had wanted to do 26 years prior; we crossed into Northern Ireland. On our previous adventure, we’d journeyed as far as Letterkenny in the northern part of the Republic of Ireland, only a half hour from Derry. But that was then, the time of The Troubles, and we didn’t dare to cross the border. Again, my guy was seeking ancestors and at the Welcome Center he was told to visit the Tower Museum where Brian Mitchell would be able to provide some help. We were too late when we climbed down from the wall to the museum, so we did what the Irish would do–when in Rome–we found a pub and had a nice chat with a young man who had recently returned to Derry in search of work. We also walked around the city, taking in the sites made famous by The Troubles. And the following morning we again returned to the museum, where the curator told us that Brian would probably show up around 11am. So, we paid for a self-guided tour and learned about the town’s colorful and dramatic past through “The Story of Derry.” At 11:30 we once again went in search of Mr. Mitchell, only to learn that he was out and about somewhere. Since we needed to check out of our room, we decided that our Derry experience was over, but Mr. Mitchell did respond to an e-mail and so my guy has some more resources to consider.


Our next stop, Portrush, a resort town along the Atlantic and on the northern fringe of Ireland. After checking in at the Antrim House B&B, we headed off along the Coastal Scenic Route to Carrick-a-Rede Island. Carrick-a-Rede is from the Scottish Gaelic term, Carriage-a-Rade, meaning the rock in the road.


And the road is presumably the sea route for Atlantic salmon that were once fished here prolifically. In fact, so prolifically, that the fishery is no longer viable. In order to reach  the best places to catch the migrating salmon, for 350 years fishermen crossed regularly to the island.


One hundred feet above the sea, the fishermen crossed the 60-foot chasm via a rope bridge to check their nets. Of course, they had only one rope, not the steel and plank structure that we crossed. That being said, it was quite windy and the bridge did sway.


We put our fear of heights behind us and made our way across.


Did he just do that? Yup.


And I followed.


Our views included Raithlin Island, the northernmost point of Ireland.


Our next wonder–the Giant’s Causeway, a geological phenomenon of 40,000 basalt stone columns formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago.



These hexagonal tubes stacked together like cans on a shelf offer yet another mystical and magical look at the world, one that the Irish embraced by creating legends to explain their existence–Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), an Irish giant, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Good old Fionn accepted said challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two could meet. There are two endings so take your pick: In one version, Fionn defeats Benandonner, but in another,  he hides from Benandonner because he realizes his foe is much bigger. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises her husband as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby,” he fears that its father, Fionn, must be the biggest giant of them all. Benandonner flees back to Scotland in fright, but makes sure to destroy the causeway behind him so he won’t be followed by Fionn.


My guy found a spot to take in the giant’s viewpoint.


As we made our way back toward Portrush, we paused at Dunluce Castle. We couldn’t go in because it had closed for the day, but we could still see part of the castle town that was developed in the early 1600s.


Originally built by one clan in the early 1500s, it was seized by another in the mid 1500s. Its history includes rebellions and intrigue.


Included in its dramatic history are tales of how the castle kitchens fell into the sea one stormy night in 1639. We couldn’t help but wonder if the same happened to the wall.


Back in Portrush finally, our own tale continued. At the suggestion of our hostess, we walked to the Harbour Bar for dinner.


While we waited for a table, we paused in the wee pub, as they call it. A few minutes later, two guys walked in with a trophy and made a big fuss about its placement among the best bottles of whiskey.


At the time, I was standing to the right of the gentleman in the middle and so I asked him about the trophy. He explained that when you participate in the Ryder Cup you receive a replica. My guy immediately realized that I was talking to a famous Irish golfer, he just couldn’t put a name with the face. On the wall above, we could see photos of him, but we weren’t close enough to read the signatures.


It turns out we were in the presence of Darren Clarke, the European Ryder Cup captain for 2016. We didn’t know that until we went to check on our table and asked. One of the bartenders encouraged us to stay for the send-off, so we did. Everyone donned a D.C. mask (at 00:16, if you look quickly to the back left, you might see my scraggly hair behind a mask)–and sang “Shoulder to shoulder, we’ll answer Darren’s call.” We were included as the North American entourage.



While I got Darren’s autograph on one of the masks, my guy befriended Willie, the bar manager.


The next morning, after a traditional Irish breakfast, we toured the downtown. Ireland amazes us–the temperature was chilly and yet the flowers were gorgeous. And palm trees grow throughout the country.


Upon our departure, our hostess suggested we follow the coastal route to Murlough Bay and so we did. And took a wrong turn that lead down a dead-end to a gate with a sign warning us that guard dogs were on site. With caution, my guy backed up the lane until he could turn the car around. Our hostess had also told us not to park at the upper lot for Murlough Bay, but instead to drive down. I insisted upon the upper lot given that the road had at least a 10% pitch. So we walked down. And down. And down some more.


Upon our descent, the light at a distant lighthouse beckoned in the background as Fairhead came into view.


The coastline was as dramatic as we’d been promised. And I was glad we’d walked because the drive would have been even more dramatic with Hyacinth in the passenger seat.


This area may appear familiar to viewers of Game of Thrones–including the site of Stormlands.


After a hike back up the road, we drove on to take in the scenery of Torr Head. The road narrowed significantly as it twisted and turned along the coast. And then . . . we met a porsche rally. As best he could, my guy squeezed our car past them. And as soon as he could, we got off the coastal route and drove on to Belfast. It was late in the day and pouring when we arrived. By the time we parked in city centre and walked to the Welcome Center, we were drenched. And disappointed. There was no where to stay in town and we’d have to move on. But . . . then one final effort proved that a hotel was available. We should have questioned if for the price. Well, actually I did, but we were told that it was a fine place and served as a conference center. So we took it. And couldn’t wait to get out of there. Fortunately, we found some Irish music back in town and a delightful meal of locally harvested food. All we needed to do was sleep in the rathole, though even that didn’t work so well.


The next morning we took in the Titanic Museum and stepped aboard one of its tenderfoot boats, the Nomadic.


A dose of coffee and I was ready to take the helm. And if you are wondering if it’s windy every day in Ireland, the answer is yes. It also rains at some point each day. Our time in Northern Ireland was over, but except for that one accommodation, we’d had a wonderful and wonder-filled time.


As we worked our way south, we spent a night at a delightful B&B in Navan, which featured  more traditional music and a place to relax. On Monday morning, we finally headed to the cottage we’d rented in the town of Laragh–Glendale Holiday Cottages–we highly recommend. Our host, Christy, was extremely accommodating, the cottage spacious and amenities plentiful.


We’d chosen this location because it was a five minute walk to the pub and restaurant in Laragh, located in the Wicklow Mountains, and near the Glendalough monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.


Forty shades of green and Brigadoon all came to mind as we approached the monastic settlement and its round tower.


St. Kevin’s kitchen is actually a 12th century church, so named because it was believed that the bell tower was a kitchen chimney. Apparently, however, no food was ever cooked there. But . . . if you think of the word of God as food, then perhaps many a feast was actually served.


From the altar window in the cathedral, the largest of seven churches within the monastic city,  a view of the world beyond was offered.


Likewise, we could see the world within, including the Priest House in the background.


And everywhere, gravestones told the story of many who’d passed this way.


A little closer to Laragh, Trinity Church.


Upper Glendalough was the jumping off point for our initial hike upon the Wicklow Way.


We paused beside Poulanass Falls before zigzagging our way up the first trail.


Sheep merely looked up to acknowledge our passing. We, however, needed to pay more attention for sheep shit was prolific.


Tree felling was also a frequent sight, but we noted a unique (to us anyway) method of reforestation–in this case the Sitka spruces and Scots pines being felled were replaced by mountain ash saplings. One other thing we wondered about–the plastic sleeves–we saw some that had fallen away as trees grew, but were left in place. Biodegradable? We could only hope.


We spent three full days on the trail, not covering all of it, but a good portion as we hiked 10-15 miles each day.


Our journey took us over boggy portions,


down grassy sections,


on village lanes,


over boardwalks,


through the black forest,


and into the future.


Frequently, we had to stop, reread the directions and study the map, but more often the route was self-explanatory.


Along one section that was particularly muddy due to frequent horse crossings, we made a discovery unique to us.


A badger print. Sadly, or maybe happily to locals, we saw a dead badger on one of the lanes not far from this print. Related? We’ll never know.


We saw deer, one rabbit and two red squirrels.

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Writing of the latter, we chuckled when we encountered this sign because we have frequent encounters with them at home. But considering we only saw two in two weeks and spent most of our days outside, we had to wonder.


Bessie One,




and Three (pronounced Tree) tolerated our presence.


And Bessie Four made us laugh–as she stood upon a wall.


Though we passed through pasture after pasture and by many a farm and barn, we never saw any farmers, but knew that they were hard at work preparing for winter.


And one even offered us nourishment.


Our path included obstacles, though most were easy to overcome from a rope loop


to a simple step or


ladder crossing.


Only once were we uncertain. The stile was padlocked and there was no step or ladder. We finally decided to climb up over the gate in hopes that there wasn’t a bull on the other side. Usually though, a beware of bull sign announced their presence and no such sign marked that particular crossing–phew.


Our days ended with a stop at the local pub because Guinness® is good for you. I actually overheard an older woman telling her significant other the truth behind this. Apparently, when this woman’s mother had been in hospital years before, she was given Guinness® to drink each morning and evening–perhaps for its iron content. Or perhaps just because it’s good for you.


One of our stops was at the smallest and oldest pub in the nation–the Dying Cow. Mr. Dolan sat behind the bar sipping a Guinness® along with us as he and my guy got into a discussion about American politics. We noted that to be a hot topic. Our reason for finding this pub was because we’d walked into Tenahely after a fifteen miler and were about to step into Murphy’s for a pint when a gentleman sitting outside started chatting with us. He suggested we head off down the road because we needed to experience this tiny bar and he would have joined us but he’d just ordered his pint and didn’t want to waste it.


We followed the directions he wrote out for us, and missed the 1798 monument at first, but retraced our route and found it. We only wish he’d then told us how to get back to Laragh. That took a while, but eventually we found our way home.


Our views from the Wicklow Way were worthy of wonder.


And the ever present clouds added to the drama.


The land resembled a patchwork quilt.


No matter where we looked, it was forever changing.


Some of our fun discoveries included chestnut trees,


black slugs, and . . .


the crème de la crème–bear claw marks! Did Bear Gryllz really leave his signature on the trail behind the Glendalough Hotel?


When we weren’t hiking, we explored the area, including Wicklow and its stone beach.


We didn’t understand this ship at first until my guy asked–meet Wavewalker, a maintenance boat for Ireland’s Offshore Windfarm.


Across the harbor, we spied the remains of a castle that invited a closer look.


It seems Black Castle was constantly under siege and totally destroyed in 1301. And yet–I felt a presence still there.


Do you see his face?


The oldest mill in Ireland also drew our attention–Avoca Handweavers Mill was established in 1723.


It was the home of color with attitude.


Upclose and personal, we saw the inner workings.


And marveled at the creative results.


Our last full day in Ireland found us in Carlow. Standing beside the River Barrow, this castle was thought to once be a stronghold and it survived attacks in the 1400s and 1600s. According to local lore, a physician set out to remodel it into an asylum in the early 1800s. As he tried to demolish the interior, he placed explosive charges near its base and accidentally destroyed all but the remaining west wall and twin towers. Uh oh.


As happened daily, the weather quickly changed from blue sky to raindrops. Swans in the River Barrow didn’t care. They were in their element.


My guy counted while I photographed. Thirty some odd–all wishful that we’d brought good tidings in the form of bread. Not to be much to their dismay. Despite that, we were treated to several displays.


And later that night, a display of sun and clouds as we went in search of supper.


Our final night was spent at the Green Lane B&B in Carlow where Pat and Noeleen took special care of us. My guy watched the GAA football game with Pat, their grandson Sam helped us print out our airline tickets and Noeleen made sure we had toll money for our journey to the airport. And then there was the breakfast–the finest we’d enjoyed.


Think eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausage, white pudding, toast and Irish soda bread. And they wanted to know if we wanted porridge and cereal. Really?


Before we checked out, I made my guy drive to this field ensconced in an Irish mist.


The fog seemed apropos for our walk out to the Browneshill Dolmen. This was a burial chamber that may have originally been covered with earth.


My guy stands almost six feet tall, so his height provided a sense of size.


The two more pointed stones on either side of the squared stone were known as portal stones that would have supported the granite capstone or chamber roof. The squared stone in the center was probably the gate stone that blocked the entrance. This site has not been excavated so there’s no other info about it, but just standing in its presence and considering those who came before and created such was enough.


And then there were the spider webs. I’d missed them as we’d walked toward the dolmen, but they captured my attention all the way back. From prehistoric to present, the structures before us were breathtaking.


And when we finally pulled out of the B&B driveway on our way to the airport, I asked my guy to stop while I jumped out of the car. What a sight to behold–web ornaments. A perfect ending to our vacation.

My guy meet several roadblocks on his search for roots, but at the same time, he learned about some new avenues that may help in his quest. And I, I wished for more time to understand all that was before me from prehistoric to present–but maybe I sought answers that don’t need to be. Having the questions might be enough.

Together, we were grateful for our Hyacinth and Richard Adventure on the Emerald Isle. And glad to return the car safely to the rental agency.




The Wonders of Kezar River Reserve

How many people can  travel a familiar route for the first time every time? I know I can.


And so it was this morning when I ventured to the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve off Route 5 in Lovell. I went with a few expectations, but nature got in the way, slowed me down and gave me reason to pause and ponder–repeatedly.


As I walked along the trail above the Kezar River, I spied numerous oak apple galls on the ground. And many didn’t have any holes. Was the wasp larvae still inside?


While the dots on the gall were reddish brown, the partridgeberry’s oval drupes shone in Christmas-red fashion. I’m always awed by this simple fruit that results from a complex marriage–the fusion of pollinated ovaries of paired flowers. Do you see the two dimples? That’s where the flowers were attached. Two became one. How did they do this?


After walking along the first leg of the trail, I headed down the “road” toward the canoe launch. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–fairy homes. Okay–true confession: As a conclusion to GLLT’s nature program for the Lovell Recreation Program this summer, the kids, their day camp counselors and our interns and docents created these homes.


I was impressed that the disco ball still hangs in the entrance of this one. Do you see it? It just happens to be an oak apple gall. Creative kids. I do hope they’ve dropped by with their parents to check on the shelters they built.


And then I reached the launch site and bench. It’s the perfect spot to sit, watch and listen. So I did. The bluejays kekonked, nuthatches yanked and kingfishers rattled.


A gentle breeze danced through the leaves and offered a ripply reflection.


And I . . . I awaited great revelations that did not come. Or did they? Was my mind open enough to receive? To contemplate the mysteries of life? The connections? The interactions?


At last, I moved on and entered a section that is said to be uncommon in our area: headwall erosion. This is one of five ravines that feature deep v-shaped structures. Underground streams passing through have eroded the banks. It’s a special place that invites further contemplation. And exploration.


One of my favorite wonders on the bit of stream that trickled through–water striders. While they appeared to skate on the surface, they actually took advantage of water tension making it look like they walked on top as they feasted on insects and larvae that I could not see.


Lots of turtle signs also decorated the trail. Literally.


In fact, I found bear sign,


cardinal sign,


and lady’s slipper sign . . . among others. Local students painted the signs and it’s a fun  and artistic addition to the reserve.

k-blue jay feather.jpg

Of course, there was natural sign to notice as well, including a blue jay feather.

K-aster .jpg

Asters and goldenrods offered occasional floral decorations.


And hobblebush berries begged to be noticed.


And then a meadowhawk dragonfly captured my attention. I stood and watched for moments on end.


And noted that the red maples offered similar colors.


When I reached the canoe launch “road,” I was scolded for my action.


Despite that, I returned to the bench overlooking the mill pond on the river. Rather than sit on the bench this time,  I slipped down an otter slide to the water’s edge.

k-green frog 1.jpg

My efforts were rewarded. Frogs jumped. And a few paused–probably hoping that in their stillness I would not see them. But I did . . . including this green frog.


My favorite wonder of the day . . .


moments spent up close and personal with another meadowhawk.


No matter how often I wander a trail, there’s always something, or better yet, many somethings, to notice. Blessed be for so many opportunities to wonder beside the Kezar River.